Latin summer

Four recommendations from an array of Latin American dance, music and culture on its way to the UK.

Over the next two months, Britain will play host to a variety of Latin American performers. Ballet dancers, platinum selling artists and Lucha Libre stars will jet over the Atlantic for your entertainment, most of them for one night only. Performers from all over the continent are set to play in London and elsewhere - the summer of 2011, it would seem, is a Latin one.

Things culminate with the annual Carnival del Pueblo in Burgess Park, south London, in August, as well as the CASA Latin American Theatre Festival in October.

To make things easier, here are four artists that come highly recommended:

Juan Luis Guerra

The giant of Latin American music is yet to appear in the UK. Despite selling thirty million albums worldwide, winning two Grammy awards and fifteen Latin Grammys for good measure, this week's performance will be Juan Luis Guerra's first in London.

The Dominican giant's sound is a product of his birthplace and he only ever composes songs himself. Initially using the rhythms of merengue and bachata, he struck out in all directions folding in salsa, son, Latin pop and even recording mash ups with African artists like Congo's Diblo. The artist himself describes his music as 'full of energy [...] romantic, danceable and made for reflection'.

When we spoke to Juan Luis Guerra he raved about his debut in the country of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. As well as playing to an English crowd for the first time in his twenty-five year long career, he is looking forward to having a pint of ale in a proper English pub, followed by a session in Abbey Road studios.

Asked whether he was concerned about the British and their two left feet, he replied that the 'Latin Americans in the audience will take care of them', and that even in Japan last year he found an unlikely community of bachata aficionados (so much so that he wrote a song about it ).

Como No will be hosting Juan Luis Guerra y 4.40 on Wednesday 22 June at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo. Tickets can be bought from the HMV call centre, on 0843 221 0100. They are also available from Ticketmaster twenty-four hour Ticketline, on 08448 44 47 48. Visit www.ticketmaster.co.uk for further details. Doors 6.45pm

Carlos Acosta

Carlos Acosta is one of the most recognized Latin Americans in London. Haling from Cuba, he won a string of international awards before he joined the Royal Ballet in 1998 and became a Principal in 2003.

The rags to leotard story goes that Acosta was a young rebel who danced to Michael Jackson on the streets of La Habana. Then, at thirteen, he saw a Cuban Ballet performance that would focus in his mind his future profession.

Nowadays he is known for being able to pull of that leap, and for choreographing increasingly biographical work. This year's offering, Premieres Plus, features new creations and collaborations with renowned international dancers and musicians. The pieces have been devised by Acosta, combining his classical training with more contemporary styles.

It has been reworked from the 2010 project of the same name and will be performed in three separate venues. Collaborating with dancers from Rambert Dance Company, Ballet Boyz graduates and an overwhelming number of other international movers, this is one not to be missed.

Carlos Acosta will be performing at the London Coliseum from 27 - 30 July. He will be at The Lowry, Salford Quays, Manchester, on 24 and 25 July and Birmingham Hippodrome from 18-20 August.

Calle 13

Calle 13 is much more than just a band. They are poets, satirists, political activists even, whose unique sound has far surpassed the reggaetón scene they were associated with in the past. They combine Latin American folk music, Afro-beat, ska, polka, salsa with blunt political messages that have earned them the reputation of being some of the most innovative music makers going.

The group is made up of the fraternal Calle 13 ('kai-yay tray-say'), René Pérez Joglar (Residente), and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez (Visitante). The trio's music is a call to action: a torrent of passionate rants about anger, political disillusionment, and international inequality. That said, the obnoxious base line and beats behind each song means that for every crowd there is a floor-filler, whatever their musical bent.

Calle 13 is renowned for giving infectious, raucous concerts, captivating audiences with the range and quality of their music. With an eleven-piece band behind them, this promises to be a powerful, witty and memorable show.

Calle 13 will be hosted by Como No in association with the Barbican, and will be performing at the Hackney Empire on Saturday 8 July 2011. Tickets can be bought from the Box Office 0845 120 7550 www.barbican.org.uk/blaze. Doors 8pm - 2am.

Lucha Future

Recent comments from BBC TV's Top Gear presenters regarding Mexico and its people have been responded to by the stars of Mexico's finest, Lucha Future. The legendary Queen of the Ring, Cassandro, has challenged Clarkson, Hammond and May to a bout in the ring at London's Roundhouse, "If they want to know what Mexico is really like, I'll let them know in five minutes flat".

Lucha Future will see luchadores like Blue Demon Jr., El Paso's lip-locking Cassandro and the acrobatic Magno run, fly and muscle their way across a London ring this week.

Bursting with heroism and villainy, the masked athletes clad in leotards and latex will be putting the hurt on each other, with feats of agility (and slapstick) that the perma-mulleted WWF fights of the past could not even hope to emulate.

To add yet more spice to the mix live music will be served up courtesy of Tijuana's Bostich & Fussible (Nortec Collective) and their Mexican gumbo of Norteño, electronica and techno.

Lucha Future will be on at the Roundhouse, Camden from Friday 24 June - Sunday 26 June. They will also be at The Sage, Gateshead, on 28 June, and Brighton Dome on 2 July.

Mark Maughan writes for Candela magazine

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Social media tome #Republic questions the wisdom of crowds

Cass R Sunstein explores how insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Cass Sunstein, one of the leading public intellectuals in the United States and a former Obama administration official, has worried and written for more than 15 years about the effects of the internet and digital communications on democracy. This book, his third on the subject, tackles social media.

The heart of his argument lies in the cumulative, collective effect of what individuals do online. Networking, shopping, dating and activism are all transformed by the engine of opportunity that is the internet. But those new links and choices produce a malign side effect: “filter bubbles”, inside which like-minded people shut themselves off from opinions that might challenge their assumptions. Insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Sunstein’s organising principle is the ­difference between consumer and political sovereignty. The former promotes individual choice despite its possible consequences; the latter takes into account the needs of society as a whole. His inspiration is Jane Jacobs, the historian of US cities who celebrated, in poetic language, the benign and enriching effect on democracy of random encounters between citizens on pavements and in parks. How do we now reverse or dilute the polarisation driven by Facebook and Twitter?

The solutions Sunstein proposes for this very difficult problem are oddly tentative: websites stocked with challenging ideas and deliberative debates, voluntary self-regulation and “serendipity buttons”. He rightly stresses transparency: we know far too little about the algorithms that sift news for our attention on the networks. Facebook has talked about trying to show news that is “engaging” and “interesting”, without ever engaging in detailed public discussion of what these words mean. The disclosure requirements for social networks “require consideration”, Sunstein writes, without saying whether Facebook might have to be required legally to explain precisely how it routes news to almost two billion users.

Sunstein’s most interesting arguments are myth-busters. He questions the “wisdom of crowds”, while refraining from pointing out directly that the single strongest argument against this idea is the inequality of opinions. Not all opinions are equally valuable. He warily suggests what only a very few American voices have so far dared to say: that the First Amendment to the constitution, which guarantees a free press, should not be treated – as the courts have recently tended to do – as an equally strong protection for the freedom of all speech.

Sunstein is nostalgic for the media system and regulation of the past. I spent years working for a daily “general-interest” newspaper (the Times) and regret the decline of those outlets as much as he does, yet there is no reversing the technological and economic changes that have undermined them. It might have been a mistake to deregulate television in the United States, and killing the “fairness doctrine” might have had unforeseen effects, but that does not deal with the dilemmas thrown up by WhatsApp or Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

Users of these platforms face the problem of managing abundance. Writers such as Sunstein imply that people who lock themselves in filter bubbles are deplorably unable to break out of their informational isolation. But we all now live in bubbles that we design to make sense of the torrent of information flowing through our phones. Better-designed, heterogeneous bubbles include the unexpected and the challenging.

Yet the problem lies deeper than the quality of your bubble. Polarised societies can no longer agree on how to recognise the truth. Filter bubbles play a part, but so do a preference for emotion over reason, attacks on scientific fact from religion, decades of public emphasis on self-fulfilment, and a belief that political elites are stagnant and corrupt. Like many journalists, Sunstein treats the problem of a malfunctioning communications system as a supply-side matter: the information being generated and distributed ought to be better.

In the case of fake news, that is indisputable. But there is also a demand-side problem, one that hinges on the motives of those consuming information. If, inside their bubbles, people are not curious about alternative opinions, are indifferent to critical thinking and prefer stoking their dislike – of, say, Hillary Clinton – will they have even the slightest interest in venturing outside their comfort zone? Do we have a right to ignore the views of others, or an obligation to square up to them? Millions of Americans believe that one of the most important guarantees in their constitution is the right to be left alone – and that includes being left alone by the New York Times.

Sunstein does not venture far into this territory. He only hints that if we worry about what people know, we must also worry about what kinds of societies we build. Globalisation has reshaped communities, dismantling some and building others online, but the net effect has been to reduce deliberation and increase a tendency to press the “Like” button, or loathe opponents you can’t see or hear. The ability to debate civilly and well may depend on complex social chemistry and many ingredients – elite expertise, education, critical thinking, culture, law – but we need to be thinking about the best recipes. 

George Brock is the author of “Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age” (Kogan Page)

#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media
Cass R Sunstein
Princeton University Press, 328pp, £24.95​

George Brock is a former managing editor of The Times who is now head of journalism at City University in London.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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